A Question on Minimalist Design

Today I'd like to answer a question from a friend who's just started to get into minimalism. I think it's a great question about minimalist design, so buckle in because my answer is going to be
l o n g.

Q: I see all these minimalism inspirational images online, and not only does everything look decluttered, but there seems to be a clear interior design theme as well (i.e. white/black/gray + accent color). How can I make my living space look more like those inspirational photos without spending thousands on new furniture/interior design?

 A: There are a lot of budget ways to get clean and sophisticated minimalist designs. I recommend starting with a mood board to collect your ideas. Collect all of your favorite photos of minimalist designs, and arrange them on a mood board. Play with paint cards from home improvement stores, and swatches from fabric stores until you find colors and textures that make you happy. Once you have a solid vision of what you want to achieve, you might find these tips helpful:
  • Don't buy into the need for "storage" furniture to solve clutter - While persistent clutter can be an indication that your current furniture isn't working for you, it can also be an indication that you just haven't found the best home for it yet. Sometimes the right home for clutter is in the trash bin, but other times it's just a matter of putting it with like items. Always analyze your need for an item or group of items before your commit to buying or building new furniture in which to store it. This is where the KonMari method of decluttering by item type helps a lot. Once you declutter properly, you'll have much less need for storage furniture.
  • Make use of vertical space - Clutter breeds easily if the floor is cluttered with furniture. However, wall-mounted shelves and freestanding slim bookshelves don't attract clutter quite like coffee tables do. The best way to reduce clutter is to find its hiding places and then either eliminate those places or just commit to keeping them clutter-free. I'm definitely guilty of having cluttered coffee tables, yet my shelves always have just the right amount of things on them and don't look cluttered. My excuse (and realization) is that the tables are so much easier for clutter to reach!
  • Paint your furniture and decor items - Nearly everything can be painted, not just walls! A single paint color can unify a collection of different or disparate items. Sometimes the shape or utility of an item is hard to pass up, but the color is either dreadful (cough... taupe) or just doesn't mesh well with the overall feel of a room. Mismatched wooden dining chairs can be sanded and painted with interior latex paint, chalk paint, or spray paint. Photo frames and vases are perfect candidates for a coat or two of spray paint to unify different shapes and textures into a cohesive set.
  • Start with DIY and upcycling before buying new - I used to be a college student with a very low budget for nice furniture and home decor. To this day, I still use a set of 4 dining chairs I got for free and repainted and reupholstered so they would all match (a project which cost about $35 for spray paint and fabric). They now sit around an 8-seater table that I built myself for a total of about $60. The other chairs I have acquired since then purposefully do not match, which lends an eclectic and energetic feeling to the dining room. When I needed a new computer desk, I built my own from reclaimed wood, a reclaimed filing cabinet, and a couple of hairpin legs. I not only got enough desktop space for my computer and printers, but I got a convenient place to store paper clutter like mortgage and tax documents.
I think I've nearly exhausted the reserve of core ideas I wanted to offer as answers here. Minimalism doesn't have to be an expensive lifestyle, and it really shouldn't be. The willingness to do tasks yourself and just think cleverly about the space you have available should go a long way toward keeping a new minimalist lifestyle affordable and enjoyable.